So What Does Ceræ Mean, Anyway?

by MICHAEL OVENS

“Imagine… that our minds contain a block of wax… Let us call it the gift of the Muses’ mother, Memory, and say that whenever we wish to remember something we see or hear or conceive in our own minds, we hold this wax under the perceptions or ideas and imprint them on it as we might stamp the impression of a seal ring. Whatever is so imprinted we remember and know so long as the image remains; whatever is rubbed out or has not succeeded in leaving an impression we have forgotten and do not know.” -Plato, Theaetetus

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‘Ceræ‘ is the nominative plural form of the Latin word ‘cēra’, which can be translated as ‘wax’ or ‘wax tablet’. We have chosen the Classical Latin pronunciation “keh-rhy” but it can also be pronounced “che-rye” (Ecclesiastical Latin) or “se-rye” (Neo-Latin). From Homer to Freud, the reinscriptive and impressionable properties of wax recommended it as a metaphor for the faculty of memory par excellence. Now in the twenty-first century, these same properties recommend ceræ as a metaphor for the overwritable and malleable mediums of the digital humanities, and acknowledges the growth of the Internet as a form of communal, digital memory.

From antiquity to the early modern period the word cerae was also used to refer specifically to the wax tablets, wax seals, and wax images. The variety of mediums implied by the word cerae reflects the journal’s commitment to enabling multimedia research to be published and showcased in ways that are not catered for by today’s print journals.

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The Ceræ banner is a cross between a beeswax tablet and the 35mm film used in most modern motion pictures. It is inscribed with the word Ceræ, with its ligature incorporating the stylus that was used for inscribing and erasing content on a wax tablet. This combination of media, whose peak usage was two millennia apart, serves to reinforce the journal’s commitment to approaching and disseminating pre-modern sources through modern multimedia approaches.

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Our websites feature a banner showing the Ceræ logo with a wax-red background and an image of Hildegard von Bingen. Hildegard receives a vision from the heavens and transcribes it onto a wax tablet.

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The Cerae logo can be read in two mutually reinforcing ways. The first interpretation is that of a printed book whose pages are lifting free of their binding, which represents the freedom from the constraints of traditional print media offered by open-access digital publishing. This representation is doubly encoded in the interpretation of the logo as a roaring fire, representing the Promethean fire taken from the gatekeepers of traditional publishing and given freely to humanity for their benefit. The Ceræ logo represents the journal’s commitment to disseminating quality scholarship to both the academic community and the general public.

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